Young Lawyers, Move to Silicon Valley!

lawyers in silicon valley

Updated: January 31st, 2015. This article was originally posted on November 11, 2013. 

This week it was announced that the Stanford Graduate School of Business, for the first time in its history, was sending more of its grads into tech than into finance. That’s a big deal. Just two years ago only 13% of students wanted tech jobs, while 36% were hired by firms in the financial sector.

My question to you: will the day come when more of our top young lawyers go into tech than into law?

Earlier this year I interviewed a former Harvard Law Review president (’10) who quit BigLaw and was launching a tech start up in Silicon Valley. Her co-founder? The former president of Stanford Law Review (’10). That’s also a big deal!  

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As the legal market continues to shrink, more young lawyers are looking for opportunities outside the profession. Some of them, like Joanna Huey and Jake Heller, co-founders of CaseText, willingly chose to leave the legal profession. While others were left with no choice.

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The legal market is shrinking, but young lawyers have zero preparation for the tech start-up world. They can barely navigate the courtroom.

Isn’t that what we say about law graduates? That they’re ill prepared? 7 years of higher education and they’re incapable of delivering value, right?

These are some of the smartest, best-educated and most ambitious graduates in the country. They may be ill prepared to succeed within the disastrous collapse of the legal market, but that doesn’t mean they’re ill equipped to succeed in business.

I think it’s absolutely false that recent law grads are ill prepared for the workforce. In fact, I think it’s laughable. Young lawyers are among our most prepared to enter the workforce. If you don’t believe me, try preparing and sitting for the bar exam. These kids aren’t afraid of hard work and they are quick studies.

So what’s going on for lawyers in Silicon Valley?

You read the papers blogs. Business is good in Silicon Valley. And the young, smart and ambitious need apply. It’s a new game out here, and the rules are still being established. And that spells opportunity for the… smart and ambitious who are willing to jump in.

Lawyer success stories in Silicon Valley are all around.

In 1996, Jason M. Lemkin and Charley Moore both graduated from the Berkeley School of Law.

imagesJason went on to co-found EchoSign, an electronic signature and enterprise content management system that he grew into a $50,000,000 ARR business. EchoSign was acquired by Adobe in 2011. Today, Lemkin is at the forefront of thought leadership in the SaaS business world in Silicon Valley as the Managing Director at Storm Ventures. Jason is a prolific blogger with a strong following of SaaS-minded entrepreneurs (myself included). Jason’s blog.

Charley is the founder of RocketLawyer, the Google Ventures backed legal document services start-up. RocketLawyer was founded in 2008, and did $28 million in revenue in 2012. RocketLawyer has influenced the disruption in the legal services industry— delivering affordable legal services to small business owners in the US and the UK. Charley’s blog.Unknown-1

Not too bad for two J.D.’s in Silicon Valley, right?

But these guys are outliers! I’m not going into tech because two lawyers succeeded in the Valley.

Fair enough. But while the legal industry is shrinking and the B2B tech world expands, we have simultaneously produced more lawyers than in any time in our history.

The Wall Street Journal’s Law Blog measured a 45% decline in LSAT test takers this year compared to 2009. But in 2009, at the peak of the financial crisis, more students applied to law school than ever before. The fact is, we have a lot of young lawyers right this moment—and many of them have tunnel vision as to what professional options are available to them.

Yes, but the fate of the travel agent will not befall the lawyer! Why jump ship? 

This is obviously true. Technology is not going to eliminate the legal profession. But lawyers are in the information business, and technology has made information more accessible, and in the process, narrowed the curtain behind which lawyers stand. The legal profession has been disrupted.

When I say that young lawyers should move to Silicon Valley, it’s with the understanding that 99.999% won’t do it. The majority will keep fighting the good fight within the traditional model. For most of us, that’s just how we’re built.

But for the rest of you, I’d like you to consider your options.

But what the heck do you know?

Perhaps very little. I went to law school relatively late (28 y/o) and the writing was already on the wall (’05) that the legal profession was turning from golden handcuffs to bronze. I was fortunate to land a great job right out of school (’08) as assistant general counsel for the University of Miami. Aileen Ugalde took a chance on me, and it was a tremendous learning experience. But even within that opportunity, I knew that the profession was in trouble, and at 33, if I was going to make a jump, it was now or never. So I did the unthinkable and left my legal career for a career in tech sales in New York City. And yes, it was really hard– and it took a lot of pride swallowing. Eventually I left NY and took my talents to San Francisco where I leveraged my sales experience into a VP position at a tech start-up that focused on compliance and online training.

UPDATE: January, 2015

Today I am the Chief Revenue Officer for LawRoom in the San Francisco East Bay. We are a fast growing LegalTech company that sells cloud-based compliance training solutions to companies and universities. I’m almost five years removed from my legal career and although it’s been a hard road, I made the right decision in leaving the legal profession.

But wait, that sounds like a TON of work and a TON of risk!

If you’re a young lawyer, one thing you expect to do a lot of is work. The question is where should you invest that time and energy. The quality of life for lawyers is low and the future of the profession is uncertain. So if I were you, and I was, I would take a strong look at what’s going on in Silicon Valley. Consider attending one of the major tech events in the city: DreamForce or Subscribed (free passes available).

I’m tired of all the young, underemployed lawyers ranting about disrupting a legal profession they barely know anything about! Get in the back of the line and get back to work.

First of all, I’m not saying that lawyers should go after LegalTech specifically or that they should disrupt the profession. Go after tech! That’s what I’m saying. Quit your day job and jump into tech. And if LegalTech makes sense, so be it.

But let’s be clear about something. The legal profession was disrupted long before many of us got here. And I’m not here to preach #disrupt. Disruption is what created this… opportunity. We may not have seen it coming while digging through case law in the law library, but it happened and it’s real. And now we’re faced with a difficult decision. Do we stick it out and make our way through the traditional legal track that’s seemingly collapsing beneath our feet? Or do we take the incredible education that we have, and try to do something great with it?

I know the day won’t come when more of our top young lawyers go into tech than into law. The premise of the question implies that legal education is designed to prepare one for a career in tech, and that’s obviously not to true. But to the tens of thousands of young lawyers out there who are anxious about their future in law, I suggest taking a look at what’s going on out here.

If you do come to Silicon Valley, send me a note (and your resume): preston.clark[@]gmail.com or find me on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/prestonjclark

 

About Preston Clark

Preston Clark has been writing about legal tech since 2010. He's currently the CRO for a leading legal tech SaaS company in the San Francisco Bay Area. Preston was formerly in-house counsel for the University of Miami and a Peace Corps Volunteer in Central America. In his free time, Preston enjoys building world-class sales teams, reading about SaaS, playing pick-up basketball and planning adventures with his son.

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